Mastectomy: Healing at Home
After surgery, your body needs time to recover. You will receive information about helping your body heal and what you can and cannot do. You may also be given a temporary prosthesis to wear during this time. And you’ll learn what complications to watch for.
Note: In the future, tell all medical providers that you’ve had a mastectomy and on which side. You should not have your blood pressure taken, a blood draw, or IV line on that side.
Wearing a prosthesis
After surgery, you may be given a temporary prosthesis. It’s a soft breast form that fits into a bra. Some women wear breast forms to help balance weight and avoid back strain. Other women wear them for appearance. Some women don’t use them at all. Talk to your doctor if you want a prescription for a permanent prosthesis. You may wear it when your incision feels less tender and swollen.
A seroma is a large collection of fluid that occurs under the arm or under the incision. It can appear 5 to 10 days after surgery. A small seroma is normal. It’s likely to go away by itself in a few weeks. If you have a large seroma, your surgeon may drain (aspirate) it using a syringe and needle.
Swelling of the arm and chest on the side of surgery is normal right after surgery, but it should get better as you heal. Swelling that doesn’t get better is called lymphedema. It occurs when the normal flow of lymph in the arm is reduced. This can happen if lymph nodes under the arm are removed or if the underarm is treated with radiation therapy. Lymphedema can occur long after surgery. Depending on the type of surgery and other treatments you get, you may be at risk for lymphedema for the rest of your life. To help limit problems:
Slowly return to normal use of the arm on the side of the surgery.
Protect your hand and arm from infection. Wash your hands often. And wear gloves when cleaning or gardening.
Keep the fluid moving in your operated arm. Don’t wear tight sleeves, elastic cuffs, bracelets, wristwatches, or rings on that arm.
Do exercises as instructed to help prevent swelling and improve circulation. For example, you may be told to squeeze a rubber ball with your hand.
When to call Your doctor
Call your doctor right away if you have any of the following:
Fever of 100.4°F (38°C) or higher
Cough, pain in the chest or calf, or shortness of breath
Increased pain, warmth, swelling, or redness near the surgical site
Drainage from the incision site
Bleeding that soaks the bandage
Seepage from the wound
Swelling in your hand, arm, or chest that gets worse or does not get better after surgery
Know what problems to watch for and when you need to call your healthcare provider. Also be sure you know how to get help after office hours and on weekends and holidays.